No matter where in South Africa, there’ll be tons of adventures so this South Africa adventure itinerary will help you plan anywhere between a 1-3 week trip (or more!)
To the surprise of no one, South Africa ranks highly on my favourite destinations. Given how much you can do, explore in many parts of the country, I always feel like I left South Africa not quite having done/seen/explore everything I can. Which is why I decided to write this post to give you a taste of what a South Africa adventure itinerary could look like!
Read More: South Africa’s Garden Route Itinerary.
Yes, I’ve been to South Africa three times already between 2015-2019. Yes, there are quite a large number of posts on the blog about. Yes, of all the destinations I’ve solo travelled to, none has been visited as frequently as South Africa. And yes, an absurd number of photos in my travel photo album are from various destinations in South Africa.
I think three weeks in South Africa is the absolute minimum for anyone to properly enjoy the country – I’ve explored South Africa in two weeks (because that’s how much most North Americans have for a holiday) as well so you can extend or shorten the trip as much as you’d like.
It really is one of the best destinations in the world and a 2-3 week trip here and there still so much of the country to be discovered. This trip worked incredibly well too as logically, this was a trip where I didn’t need to stress about planning the trip in advance, nor do I have to worry about logistics / getting around / safety, having been quite familiar with the infrastructure and mode of transport.
I’ve listed the top must-do/see/visit at the top of this list and the rest, you can include or exclude depending on your preference and how much time you have available.
How to Spend 1-3 Weeks in South Africa
I broke the itinerary down based on how many days you have at your disposal for the trip. I suggest you start and focus on Cape Town for itineraries less than a week. If you have more time, either the Garden Route or Safari can fill up your second week and if you have a third week, I’d include the last one.
Alternatively, you can always stretch the time at each destination based on your preference. You can absolutely do all of three weeks in Cape Town given its popularity and there are plenty of mini safari, wineland tours and activities you can do within a 40-60 minute drive from Cape Town.
If you only have 1 week (5-7 days), focus on Cape Town and its surrounding towns/cities:
- 3-4 days: Explore Cape Town (Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, District 6 Museum, BoKaap)
- 2-3 days: Visit the winelands (Stellenbosch & Franschhoek) or Groot Constantia (30-45 mins away from city centre)
- 1 day: Cape Peninsula Day Trip (Including Simon’s Town – Boulder’s Beach, Hout Bay, False Bay, Cape Point)
If you have 2 weeks, add in the Garden Route to the above itinerary:
- 2-3 days: Visit, hike and stay overnight at Tsitsikamma National Park
- 2 days: Explore Mossel Bay, Wilderness (George) and Oudsthorn
- 2 days: Go sightseeing at Knysna Lagoon, and Knysna Heads
If you have 3 weeks, add in a safari at Kruger National Park:
- 4-5 days: Safari at Kruger National Park – approximately 5 day game drives and 1 night drive
- 1 day: Panorama Route
Arriving in South Africa
International Arrivals at Cape Town Airport (CPT) or Johannesburg OR Tambo (JNB)
Cape Town International airport is one of the busiest airports in the entire country and serviced by plenty of airlines from Asia, North America, Middle East and Europe. If you are arriving from international flights in South Africa, chances are you are landing at CPT or Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport (JNB). Both are full-service international airports which means you’ll find everything from Uber / Bolt pickups, taxi stands, car rental booths, left luggage as well as telecom booths so you can get your hands on a local SIM card.
Destination #1: Cape Town (1 week)
Cape Town is known as the Mother City and it needs no introduction. Three days is the bare minimum to properly appreciate all she has to offer and I can easily spend a week or longer. A proper Cape Town visit easily will take up a whole week or two to discover and if you’re tight on time, you can leave out a few activities here.
Most people tend to spend most of their vacation at Cape Town and there are plenty of places to stay for every budget, all the way from comfortable, budget hostels and mid-range self-catering Airbnb’s or apartments or luxurious beachfront property rentals.
Things to do in Cape Town
I’ve written a couple of posts on things to do in Cape Town but I’ll highlight my top activities here and linked them to their appropriate posts. If you’re interested in seeing more, I recommend heading over to my other posts including: The Best Adventure Activities in Cape Town, South Africa and 5 Free Things to Do in Cape Town, South Africa.
Expect to spend 2-3 hours to half day
- Hike Table Mountain – I really recommend budgeting 2 days for Table Mountain as visits are highly weather-dependent! You can shuffle your itinerary around but make sure to budget a “backup” day in case of inclement weather! For the really adventurous sort, you can also abseil Table Mountain if you’re already there!
- Hike Lion’s Head at sunrise, sunset or full-moon – Lion’s Head is equally popular but doesn’t have the cable-car option; Similar to Table Mountain, I recommend to budget a “backup” day if hikes aren’t doable on your first day!
- Learn to Surf in Cape Town – with several mobile options to choose from, this option is perfect for those who are tight on time.
- Learn to surf in Muizenberg – Muizenberg is 15 minutes away from Cape Town (driving) and is very beginner-friendly! Perfect if you have more time to spend!
- Learn scuba diving and get PADI certified: If possible, plan to do your theory/written course before you arrive in Cape Town – that way you can spend your holiday doing the actual diving / practical portion.
- Go snorkelling with seals – Hout Bay’s seal colony is a popular destination to not only swim but snorkel with seals!
- Go Paragliding – An exhilarating experience paragliding down Signal Hill and a chance to see Cape Town from a unique vantage point! Be sure to pay the extra for the GoPro flight picture and video files! It’s worth it!
Sightseeing & Relaxing Activities in Cape Town
Expect to spend 2-3 hours to half day
- Take the Hop on Hop Off Bus – I would normally not ever recommend taking hop-on hop-off tour buses but Cape Town’s version came highly recommended. After completing two routes on my first visit – I can understand why – it is not only convenient, but cheap and offers a number of additional tours that would be remiss to exclude. I purchased the 1-day Classic Package a few years back and completed the Red (City Tour) and Purple (Wine Tour) tours.
- Visit the Colourful Neighborhood of Bo-Kaap: Bo-Kaap was formerly known as the Malay Quarter and is home to many descendants of Malays, Javanese/Indonesians who were brought over by the Dutch as slaves to develop Cape Town. The colourful houses, and unique restaurant (you’ll find everything from authentic Malay cooking to East/West fusion make this a worthwhile neighbourhood to enjoy!
- Visit the District 6 Museum: No visit to Cape Town is complete without visiting the District 6 Museum which memorializes the ills of the Apartheid Era and displacement of over 60,000 residents. Visiting the Museum is highly recommended (Admission tickets are R50) and I recommend joining the tour (which costs a little bit more) as it is run by former residents/locals.
- Visit the V&A Waterfront:
- Watch Sunset from Signal Hill: Cape Town’s sunset is magnificent and one of the best spots to enjoy the views? Signal Hill! Plenty of locals enjoy this routine so get there early so you can grab a spot!
- Enjoy the free walking tour: And meet new people! I always enjoy joining free walking tours all over Europe and Cape Town’s version (there are a few, including the Apartheid to Freedom tour in addition to the Bo-Kaap and City-focused tours) is not only impressive but always incredibly popular!
- Visit the many local markets: From the Old Biscuit Mill, Hout Bay Market, St. Georges Market (Earth Fair Food Market) V&A Waterfront Food Market, Mojo Market – you are spoilt in terms of choices to visit all over Cape Town. There are plenty of local artists, shops, and goodness to enjoy, you can visit one every day of the week and not get bored!
- Eat yourself silly at the many restaurants in Cape Town: you’ll find a little bit of everything to satisfy your taste – even the most discerning tastes will find something they’ll enjoy!
Day Trips from Cape Town
1 day minimum, can be extended to 2-3 days
- Spend a day exploring Cape Peninsula: a day trip to Cape Peninsula which takes you to Simon’s Town, Hout Bay’s Seal Colony and Cape Point was the best part of my first visit to Cape Town. Highly recommend. You can opt for a small bus tour with BazBus which is popular with younger travel groups
- Go shark-cage diving in Hermanus or whale-watching in Gansbaai: Both activities, not only tend to fill up quickly but also have caps / busy season. Really recommend to book and plan ahead!
- Safari Parks near Cape Town: Although the most authentic experience can be found at Kruger National Park, not everyone has the options to make the detour. If you’re tight on time, a few options near Cape Town include: Aquila Private Game Reserve, Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Fairy Glen Private Reserve
- Winelands – Stellenbosch & Franschhoek: South Africa is blessed with fertile lands that makes some of the best-tasting wines in the world. For those who are serious about their wines, both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek offer amazing wine farms to not only tours but stay at. You can’t go wrong at either so pick one (or both!) depending on your budget/preference.
Where to Stay in Cape Town
Budget // Cape Town
A centrally-located boutique hostel with bunk bed to single-bed options near Greenmarket SquareBook Here
Budget // Cape Town
Another popular hostel located in Green Point with their in-house adventure tours/trips a short distance from V&A WaterfrontBook Here
Budget // Cape Town
Located on the vibrant Kloof Street with Table Mountain in your backyard and its own bar and bunk/double bed options
Comfort // Cape Town
Spacious, stylish and modern with a panoramic view of the Table Mountain, this is comfortable hotel for the familyBook Here
Luxury // Cape Town
For an ultra-luxurious stay, consider this island resort-inspired hotel which features its own infinity pool and is walking distance from main tourist sitesBook Here
Luxury // Camps Bay
The ocean-front hotel based in Camps Bay offers stunning views of the Twelve Apostles and its very own rock pools. There is free transfers to V&A Waterfront
Destination #2: Garden Route (1 week)
The Garden Route is a collection of cities, stops and towns that line the southern coast of South Africa. It earned the monicker “Garden Route” because it truly represents the diversity of wildlife and landscape that makes South Africa such a stunning country! A self-drive road trip is highly encouraged – both locals and tourists really enjoy all that it has to offer, so be sure to plan ahead and avoid the high-season (Nov-Jan) which can often lead to disappointment when accommodations tend to sell out or there are larger than usual crowds.
The stops on the Garden Route is whichever you want and popular cities include: Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn, Plettenberg Bay, Wilderness (George), Knysna, Tsitsikamma National Park and Port Elizabeth.
A solo self-drive is possible should you decide to embark on a one-week Garden Route road trip like the one I did the last time I visited South Africa!
I won’t regurgitate all the various activities but I’ve summarized them for you here for easier reading.
Here are a few things you can do or consider exploring when visiting the various stops on the Garden Route
Things to do on the Garden Route
Quick Visits in Mossel Bay
Expect to spend 2-3 hours each, a full day max at Mossel Bay
- Visit the Bartholomeu Dias Museum: dedicated to the famous Portuguese explorer – great learning opportunities for all ages
- Send a postcard from The Post Office Tree (or the Giant Mail Box): make sure to bring your own postcard and stamp – I didn’t spot anywhere that sold these. The postcard are marked with a special stamp so they really stand out!
- Enjoy a casual Braai at Kaai 4 Braai Restaurant: A beachside Braai experience with amazing views
Adventure Activities at Tsitsikamma National Park
Spend at least 1 day here; 2-3 days (or 5+ if doing the Otter Trail) is ideal
- Hiking the Mouth Trail to the Tsitsikamma National Park Suspension Bridge (2km – 1 hour) – the bridge is a popular photography spot and hangs over the Storms River Mouth before it flows into the Indian Ocean. Why is it so popular? It hangs just 7 metres above the surface of the water, so prepared to get wet!
- Blackwater Tubing (3 hours): If you think the suspension bridge is the closest you’ll get to experience the Storms River Mouth, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that tubing or kayaking are great alternatives to get really wet! Kayaking with Untouched Adventures will take you to caves, cliffs, and ancient indigenous forests over a 2-3 hour trip. Great and popular for the young and old alike!
- Kayaking (2-3 hours): An alternative is tubing with Tube n Axe for those who wants a different kind of water-based experience
- Segway tour: for a more relaxed experience, you can check out the Tsitsikamma Segway Tour which takes you to various spots on a segway scooter. Tours are typically 1-2 hours long.
- Horse-riding with Kurland Park: Another unforgettable alternative for those looking to experience the park and its surrounding on horseback. There are several options to choose from including carriage tours and mountain/forest rides in addition to children-friendly lessons
- Hiking the Otter Trail (45km, 5 days): anyone serious about hiking might want to consider hiking the popular Otter Trail. It will set you back up to 5 days due to its distance but you will be rewarded by some of the finest sights the country has to offer. SANParks requires hikers interested in hiking the trail to sign a waiver form and watch a training/safety video as well as bringing their own first-aid, and cooking/emergency equipment. Resting huts are located all over the trail and a “check out” certificate is issued at the De Vasselot Rest Camp.
- Bungy-jump off Bloukrans Bridge: absolutely not for the faint-hearted, bungy-jumping is an adrenaline-pumping activity you can take a short drive away from the park. FaceAdrenaline operates the popular jumping activity spot. Booking ahead is highly advisable and for those not interested in the activity, there’s a viewing spot with a restaurant you can visit and “people-watch” those brave enough to do the jump.
Nature-Focused Activities Plettenberg Bay
- Exploring the Robberg Nature Reserve: Part of the Garden Route, the reserve is a beloved, picturesque stop if you haven’t gotten your fill from Tsitsikamma! There are several hiking trails you can enjoy
- Paragliding with Flytime: If paragliding down Sea Point in Cape Town makes you want to do more of it, check out Flytime in Plett which gives you a much more unique views of the landscape than the Mother City!
- Birds of Eden: The largest free-flight aviary in the world which covers an area of 2.3 hectares of forest waterways with 1.2km of walkways is worth checking out! It is also home to 3500 birds of some 200 species.
- Yoga Retreats: If you’re looking to relax and chill, Plett provides a great deal of options to choose from! Yoga retreats with stunning views of the mountain and ocean!
- Visit the various wineries: Winelands can be found aplenty and Prett is home to many that boasts quality drinks outside of Stellenbosch and Frankshoek.
- Visit the day and night markets: I am obsessed with visiting local markets and checking out all local artisans and shops have to offer! The market options are many in PLett and worth spending some time checking out!
Where to Stay on the Garden Route
Comfort // Mossel Bay
Beach-front location and restaurant with the bonus of staying someplace unique (a remodelled train carriage!) Santos Express will be a convo-starter!Book Here
Budget // Tsitsikamma
If you want to stay at the heart of the action, SANParks has a few options to choose from at Tsitsikamma: tent sites, caravan spots to chalets and cottages at reasonable prices. Book Here
Splurge // Plett
Similar to Knysna, you’ll find there are plenty of B&B and luxury options to choose from throughout Plett. A splurge at the Sky Villa gives you stunning beach or mountain views!
Comfort // Knysna
A comfortable family-run B&B with breakfast included in the fare. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood but a short walk and drive away from the main attractions!Book Here
Splurge // Knysna
Knysna is home to plenty of luxury/splurge-worthy options! Being a popular holiday destination for locals, you can enjoy the amenities of a country club during your holidays!Book Here
Budget // Knysna
You can’t go wrong even with a budget stay in Knysna – the family-owned inn is a charming B&B located at the heart of Knysna. With a terrace and BBQ facilities for guest-use.
Destination #3: Kruger National Park (4-7 days or longer)
Things to do at Kruger National Park
Safari at Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is one of the best location for safari trips – for first-time visitors or those who have done other parks in and around Cape Town. I think Kruger National Park is the safari destination in South Africa so it’s worth planning and preparing a trip ahead of time so you can make the most of the experience.
I recommend visiting for at least 4 days and 3 nights which gives you 5-6 game drives and one night drive. The game drives are 3-4 hours long so while you get to cover a lot of grounds, the more days you have the more likely you’re going to see the Big 5 at least once.
I opted to book my trip with Kruger Wildlife Safaris South Africa which helped me plan a memorable, comfortable trip. They customized one of the itineraries for me and I ended up experiencing both the budget and comfortable options (tent and chalets).
The fantastic part of the safari and booking through this operator was the option of staying in the park which meant not only did we save money on the accommodation (as they are SANParks-owned with daily cleaning schedule) but also got to see more of the park as our 3-4 hour game drive isn’t wasted on driving into the park.
There are plenty of tour operators for Kruger National Park – all ranging from budget to the luxury options so I recommend doing your research and really comparing the options. I did this safari as a solo female traveller and felt sufficiently and safe throughout!
Day Trip to Panorama Route (and Mmpumalanga)
Can be done as a day trip or 1-2 day self-drive trip
An optional day trip that was offered for free during my safari trip back in 2016 was visiting the Panorama Route. Similar to the Garden Route, the Panorama Route is a day trip from Kruger to various incredible stops in the scenic Mpumalanga province. If you have only 4 days and 3 nights like I did, you will have to sacrifice your second-last day (2 game drives) to do this day trip, so I highly recommend baking in an extra day if possible if you’re interested in doing both.
The Panorama Route will take you on a wilderness drive including some of the most delightful sights I’ve seen in all of South Africa. The stops (depending on your operator) could include the following:
- Blyde River Canyon – the third longest canyon in the world and as impressive (dare I say, slightly more impressive than the Table Mountain in Cape Town?)
- God’s Window – This stretch of land is 700 metres above the Lowveld and offers sweeping views of canyons, rock formations and waterfalls. On a good day, you can see Mozambique
- The Three Rondavels (AKA the Three Sisters) – three “hut-like” rock formations
- Bourke’s Luck Potholes – despite the name, this is a natural-made bizarre “potholes” in rock structures created entirely by water/erosion
- Lowveld View – a viewpoint that gives you a stunning panorama of the Panorama Route
- Visit the Waterfalls (Lisbon Falls, Mac Mac Falls, Berlin Falls) – you can swim at the foot of Lisbon Falls
Best time to see the Panorama Route
This is an incredibly popular driving route and given the short distance, most people tend to try to pack it along with their Kruger Safari trip. Meaning, you should go as early as you can and preferably in the drier season. I went in May 2016 and sadly, it rained the morning off, meaning the views weren’t as spectacular. The rain did stop rather quickly but the clouds obscured a great deal of the views at God’s Window!
Self-Drive or Tour the Panorama Route?
As mentioned earlier, I joined the pre-organized day trip tour with the safari company I booked my safari with. If I did this trip again, I would recommend doing a self-drive and spending more time in places you like more. I didn’t much care about the Berlin Falls (the only waterfall we visited) but I would have like to spend more time at Blyde River Canyon and actually swim at Lisbon Falls.
How Long should I spend on the Panorama Route
Although the day trip was enough for me, I would have liked to spend at least 2 days – I think I can easily use up that entire time to enjoy all that the Panorama Route had to offer! Again, since most of the views can be weather-dependent, being able to enjoy the views with no rain or clouds can make or break the trip. If you are travelling with a family, 2 days should be seriously considered!
Where to Stay on the Panorama Route
If planning to explore the Panorama Route for more than a day trip, it’s best to base yourself in Graskop, the main town that the highway passes through. It’s easy to make your way to God’s Window and Blade River Canyon to the north. Accommodations won’t be as luxurious as those you find in and throughout Kruger National Park but there are plenty of charming B&Bs that you will enjoy!
Budget // Graskop
A charming, lovely small B&B with old time charm and a cozy atmosphere and plenty of amenities included for use.Book Here
Comfort // Graskop
A comfortable charming B&B in central Graskop with 10-15 minutes drive to the waterfalls and God’s Window.Book Here
Budget // Graskop
Another centrally-located holiday home with the waterfalls locate 30 minutes away and amenities included.
The Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park
The best time to visit Kruger National Park is usually around South Africa’s Fall/Winter season (April – September) – this is also the dry season meaning the vegetations thin out and animals will gather around one or two watering hole. Coincidentally, the best wildlife season for Kruger National Park is also their low season, so you get the best of both worlds!
I recommend visiting during April-May or September-October as the weather is a bit more temperate. That said, the dry season means there’ll be a lot of dust kicking around.
Where to Stay at Kruger National Park
What I recommend doing is finding a company that has accommodations inside or as close to the Park gates as possible – you don’t want to waste the drive time getting into the park. That said, luxury camps like Sabie Sands actually share a border with the Kruger National Park but not actually gated, so you know… the animals go in between without really knowing if they’re on the Kruger or Sabie half.
And yes, Fall/Winter in South Africa is still chilly, especially in parks like these – so pack extra coats/thermals/sweaters. The team at Kruger Wildlife Safaris supplied us with thick blankets for our morning drives so that helped a great deal!
Furthermore, as Kruger National Park is almost the size of an entire country, it’s difficult to showcase only 6 options to choose from. You’ll want to pick a location that’s closest to the main camps. From my 2016 trip, I opted to stay close to Skukuza so that’s the area I’ll focus on on this list.
Luxury // Skukuza
Unique views of Kruger straight from your bedroom in this train converted into luxury suites! All-inclusive package!Book Here
Comfort // Skukuza
Offers private chalets/bathroom with aircon, tucked in the middle of Skukuza. A comfortable option and good value for your moneyBook Here
Budget // Skukuza
SANParks offers budget options from tents, huts, cottages (single to family) and luxury lodges (ran by partner companies) for self-serve travellers!
Comfort // Skukuza
Another budget-friendly option with safari tents as its main offering as well as fridge/microwave in each unit.Book Here
Comfort // Skukuza
Another comfortable option is Protea Hotel which is Marriott-owned while still retaining its safari charms. Book Here
Luxury // Skukuza
A luxury villa with all the amenities and stunning modern finishes in the middle of the safari.
It’s over to you now! Have you been to South Africa and what are/were your favourite activities/itinerary?
Where to Next?
- Kruger National Park is the premiere spot for safari in South Africa and here’s how you can do an African safari on a budget!
- If you’re looking to explore all of South Africa, consider taking the BazBus – a hop-on-hop-off cross country bus!
- Here’s how much it costs to go to South Africa as a solo traveller
- Consider taking rideshare like Uber/Bolt to get around
- Make time to in surf in Muizenberg; here are spots closer to Cape Town
- Don’t forget to plan a day for hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head!